The government will back away from its pre-election promise to adopt the Gonski reforms. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Those long-suffering souls we put in charge of educating our kids in government schools must be shaking their heads in despair.
Despite all the hype, noise and promises generated by last year's Gonski review of schools funding, what we're left with is basically a SNAFU.
Education Minister Christopher Pyne announced last week the government will back away from its pre-election promise to adopt the Gonski reforms over four years. Instead, in the short term it will throw a measly $230 million at the Northern Territory, Queensland and Western Australia, the states that hadn't yet signed up, and promise to outline new reforms next year.
But what are we left with? Under the existing system, which Pyne described as "a very good principle", federal funding for the wealthiest private schools in NSW rose 50 to 90 per cent in the 10 years to 2010.
The Gonski review was the first comprehensive review of schools funding since the 1970s, but now that the government has walked away from it, it's worth recalling what it tried to fix.
Under the existing system, the "educational outcomes" of indigenous children have fallen two years – two years – behind those of non-indigenous kids,
and only 45 per cent of 20 to 24-year-old indigenous people had a year 12 or equivalent qualification in 2008, compared with 85 per cent of non-indigenous Australians.
The cost of educating disadvantaged kids can be higher, but it is a cost disproportionately borne by government schools, which educate the vast majority of disadvantaged children without adequate federal assistance.
Almost 80 per cent of kids in the lowest quarter of socio-educational advantage attend government schools, but these kids are being left behind.
Sixty per cent of children who aren't proficient in English, and about 30 per cent of indigenous children and kids living in "very remote" areas, are considered "developmentally vulnerable", and that means they're too often dropping out of the system.
In 2009, the report tells us, 56 per cent of children from low socio-economic backgrounds finished year 12, compared with 75 per cent of children from high socio-economic backgrounds.
It's not only kids from poorer, indigenous and migrant backgrounds who are dropping out of the system.
There is no common definition used by the states and territories to identify students with a disability, which makes it impossible to cater for them properly, but we do know that in 2009 only 30 per cent of Australians aged 15 to 64 with a disability had finished year 12, compared with 55 per cent of the broader population.
A lot of this, say public school educators, is because of a lack of resources. In 2010, according to the best estimates available to the Gonski panel, 85 per cent of indigenous students and 78 per cent of children with a funded disability went to public schools. Public schools, and those who work in them, cater for the majority of kids with complex needs without enough help.
Despite dumping the Gonski reforms, Pyne maintains he supports a needs-based funding model. "The principle of a needs-based funding system, where disadvantaged students get more money, is a good principle and that was the same principle of the previous socio-economic status [SES] funding model. It was called socio-economic status, because funding got to where it was most needed."
But it didn't get to government schools, because under the existing arrangement the Commonwealth largely funds private schools and the states fund public schools.
As NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli said last week: "He [Pyne] must be the only person in Australia who thinks the SES model is a good model. The Gonski panel said no. If you walked into any school in NSW, every teacher and principal would say no."